International Women's Day 2023
42BR comprises over 140 members, clerks and staff. Within that number, we have 60 members of Chambers, 7 members of staff and 1 pupil who identify as women. 48% of Chambers total membership are women, a statistic we are extremely proud of. The members, clerks and staff of 42BR are not only in support of International Women’s Day this year but, we also celebrate our women all year round.
In the past 12 months, we are delighted to have championed women across our membership and staffing teams. To name some of the achievements of our members; Sarah Vakil and Eilidh Gardner were both appointed to Deputy District Judges and Mary Robertson was appointed as a South-Eastern Circuit Judge. We’ve welcomed five new female members of Chambers, namely Philippa Thomas, Dr Sara Hammond, Kate Kochnari, Hazel Samuriwo and Zoe McGrath, as well as welcoming Stephanie Mendoros back from maternity leave. Our female staff numbers have increased by four, with Sophie Hicks joining us as Marketing Manager, Sophie Bundy becoming our Junior Practice Assistant in the Family Team, Heidi Barley as our new Fees Assistant, and Georgia Bell – our Compliance, Equality and Diversity Manager.
Iris Ferber will also be appointed as King’s Counsel on 27th March, joining our already 80% female KC’s membership – an occasion we cannot wait to be a part of.
To commemorate this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to a panel of members and staff, including our Head of Chambers, Tina Cook KC, Head of Equality and Diversity, Gemma Taylor KC, senior juniors Susan Chan and Sharan Bhachu, junior members, Charlotte Mackenzie and Zoe McGrath, Equality & Diversity Manager, Georgia Bell, and Marketing Manager, Sophie Hicks to gain an insight into their views, experiences and thoughts on their careers at the Bar, and beyond.
To kick off, we asked each member how a career at the Bar came about for each of them.
"I was called to the Bar in 1988. I was financially dependent on my parents and lucky enough to be able to live at home in London. It was extremely difficult to get a tenancy. I experienced pupillage in several different sets and there was a lot of competition between the pupils. This was healthy in some ways, because it allowed me to develop a tenacity and determination to follow a career at the Bar and there was a great camaraderie between the pupils. It also provided extremely valuable life lessons and experiences, including being turned down for tenancy and coping with rejection. I thought that my world had ended but carried on in those chambers before I found pupillage elsewhere. I was eventually offered tenancy by the chambers that had turned me down before. I was told that they were impressed with how I had managed that rejection."
"I went to school in Blackburn Lancashire. I had no idea what a barrister was. I was discouraged from reading Law at university as my school did not think I would get a place. In a red rag to a bull moment, (not really knowing what law was) I applied. Once I had a place, I was told a similar thing about applying to be a solicitor or a barrister, that it was much easier to be a solicitor – on that basis I became a barrister. I have pretty much been in the same chambers ever since (we have moved buildings a few times). It must be one of the best jobs in the world."
"I started my legal career as a trainee legal executive when I was 18 years old immediately after completing my A Levels. I had become fixated on being a Children Panel Solicitor following my work experience aged 15 in a Solicitors office. I did not consider for one second that I might be more suited to being a Barrister even though it was advocacy that interested me the most. Being a Barrister was for people from a different world than the one that I inhabited. Even being a Solicitor at that stage was beyond my wildest dreams in terms of what I might realistically be able to achieve."
"I come from a Sikh punjabi family and lived in West London at the time. My dad was the only person in my very large family who had been to university. Education was really important to him and he rallied against the norm in our family for the girls to have an arranged marriage as he wanted his daughter to have the same opportunities as my brothers.
Being the eldest it was a difficult path to follow when all those around you (including my mum who was married at 19 and didn’t even see my dad’s face until the wedding day - thankfully they have had a long and generally happy marriage of nearly 50 years) thought he was mad for letting me loose into the big bad world.
I think my dad thought I would follow in his dreams and become a Doctor but I had heard someone at school talking about being a Barrister and decided that that was what I was going to pursue - I had no idea what it actually meant.
Thankfully I have enjoyed every moment of being a Barrister and pay tribute to my forward-thinking dad who paved the way for so many females after me to have access to education and opportunities to follow their dreams."
"I didn’t attend university, in fact, I left sixth form halfway through in order to work full-time at a local supermarket. Once I realised that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, I started an apprenticeship at a London-based Chambers as a junior clerk. I stayed there for 6.5 years, climbing the ranks from junior clerk to receptionist before settling in the marketing department. In May 2022, it was time for a change and I joined 42BR as their Marketing Manager."
Statistics published by the BSB show that those currently practising at the Bar are 60% male. We asked our panel what challenges they have had to overcome at the Bar and whether they’ve ever felt like they haven’t always been treated fairly or favourably in a male-dominated industry
"Often. I take that as a challenge. Sometimes we need to try to change minds and hearts. We can do that in many ways. We don’t always have to be shouty. Stealth is often more effective."
"Earlier in my career, I was, on occasion, subject to inappropriate and misogynistic comments and behaviour - comments which I expect would have been considered by those making them at the time to be robing room “banter”. I am pleased to say, from my conversations with more junior members of the Bar, that it seems these experiences are becoming much less common. I’ve also noticed a push in recent years to ensure there are procedures in place which makes reporting concerns easier. I would encourage any women joining the Bar to sign up to a mentoring scheme, in chambers or through the Inns, the Bar Council or organisations like Her Bar."
"Having gone through two pregnancies and had two children whilst at the Bar (now both at uni!), I've experienced many of the typical challenges that women face juggling family with a career at the Bar. Particularly difficult was feeling nauseous and exhausted during the first trimester of pregnancy, trying not to throw up during a hearing(!) and sometimes having to just lie down on the floor of my chambers' room through pregnancy-related fatigue.
The other main challenge was juggling an unpredictable court-led work schedule with the expense of 5 days a week childcare; nurseries don't let you vary the days of children's attendance.
I can say how much I valued my chambers adopting family-friendly policies such as rent-free maternity leave and clerks observing my request to only list court hearings in or near London where I live, during my children's early years, so that I would not need to stay away from my babies overnight.
More generally, chambers just having an understanding, responsive and flexible attitude to parents, is so essential and very much appreciated. I would strongly recommend that female barristers only consider joining chambers that have inclusive and family-friendly policies and ethos, as it is so crucial to well-being in practice at the Bar."
"I have been treated differently as a female at times. There have been casual sexism that was irritating more than impactful. I recall one District Judge in particular, who would wink at me whenever I left his Courtroom. This was not a ‘sexual’ wink, but rather a ‘good girl, well done’ type of wink that some (me) may consider rather patronising. I undertook a straw poll back at my office of the men to see if the same District Judge winked at them. The response was a resounding no.
I recall a Circuit Judge taking an interest in my career and advising me that I should carefully consider making an application for a judicial post. When I relayed this to male colleagues, they giggled and said “yes, he fancies you”. I was outraged by their sexism. I fumed over why they couldn’t accept that it was because I was a good and professional advocate. My bubble was rather burst when many years later at the same Judges leaving drinks, his parting words to me were that he “preferred me blonde”. I had changed my hair colour from blonde to brown 3 or 4 years before he made this comment. I don’t doubt that he also thought that I was a good advocate, but it was disappointing. The interesting part of this to me now looking back, is that he felt so comfortable in making that comment in the earshot of a group of people and was seemingly completely unaware of how inappropriate the comment was. I don’t doubt that no working Judges would think that comment suitable now and I don’t doubt that I would respond differently should a comment such as that be made to me."
"I know that the old-fashioned style clerks took me less seriously in my formative years. I expect they followed the lead from leadership in chambers at the time. I was aware that some actively favoured the young male pupils when allocating work. When I was a young tenant there was an expectation that if you started a family, you would either take a lot of time off or pay for full-time child care. There was little scope for juggling parenthood and a full-time career. I was extremely lucky when I had children later on, to be in our chambers where the senior clerk valued and promoted family life as well as your work. This allowed me to plan where and when I worked, to take time off and short notice if necessary but always to have the flexibility required.
As well as my experiences as a pupil barrister, I do still stumble across corners in our legal world where machismo and testosterone rule. Luckily this is extremely rare, but always an unnerving and unpleasant experience."
"From a staff perspective, I had to think long and hard about whether I had actually experienced any challenges due to being female throughout my time in Chambers. I’ve always felt valued as a member of the team and couldn’t pinpoint a time in which I had been treated less favourably than a male colleague. I dove further into my earlier career and remembered a time, when I was a junior clerk, coat on, boxes loaded onto the trolley, ready to run down to the RCJ when a senior male member of Chambers strode into the clerks room and demanded that my male counterpart should be doing the court runs and I should be doing the desk-based work. I knew I was more than capable of taking 3 boxes down to the court on a trolley! But at the time I was slightly embarrassed so joked, shrugged it off and handed the trolley over. I don’t think I thought about it much afterwards, but in hindsight, I’d assume I was deemed less capable of manual work than my male colleague and better suited to ‘desk work’. This was around 7 years ago now, and I’m pleased that it seems to have been a solitary incident."
We then asked Tina Cook KC whether she could share some experiences of being a female Head of Chambers.
"There are happy moments when you have encouraged and supported a member of chambers and they achieve some success, like someone who doesn’t think they are good enough to apply for silk, applying and achieving silk. 42BR Barristers are a pretty special bunch of barristers, there are some very talented and amazing women at the Bar and so many at 42."
Ministers have recently rejected a proposal from MPs to introduce “menopause leave” in England. It also dismissed a recommendation to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Employment Barrister, Susan Chan, and Equality & Diversity Manager, Georgia Bell discuss their thoughts
"I am disappointed but not that surprised that the government has rejected categorising menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. However, as an employment barrister, I can't see any good reason why workers couldn't argue that if the effects were sufficiently severe, it constitutes a 'disability' (although I can see that presentationally, it isn't great that a stage most women will experience, is labelled as such). The hormone deficiency caused by perimenopause and menopause is certainly capable of causing a significant adverse effect on a woman's ability to do everyday activities and is likely to last 12 months or more."
"The media have reported that 1 in every 10 women have left their careers between the ages of 45-55 due to menopause-related conditions. For several years, women aged 50 and over have been the fastest-growing group in the workforce – meaning that menopause and perimenopause are prevalent in the workplace. Although menopause hasn’t been granted specific protections under the Equality Act this time, it should hopefully open the door for discussions.
I think more businesses need to ‘show up’ for their employees, and perhaps even develop a menopause policy, addressing stigmas, and highlighting the support available. As the pension age creeps upward, we need to focus on retaining the talent we currently have, and that must come with a level of understanding. Here at 42BR, we’re working with our training provider to ensure menopause ‘training’ is available to all our staff, clerks, and members."
Wrapping up the interviews with our panel, we asked them whether they had any advice for aspiring female barristers
"Acknowledge that nearly everyone suffers from imposter syndrome to some extent. Many people make their best submission in the car on the way home. Know who you are and what you have to offer. Go into everything that you do knowing that you are equal. The more you believe that yourself, the more those around you will treat you equally. Being female has meant that I have had different experiences within my career to male colleagues, but I do not believe that being female has held me back in any way. So far, I have been able to reach all my career goals and whilst I do not know what my next career goals will be, I have no reservations that I may not reach them because of my gender."
"Just keep swimming… work really hard, follow your instinct and ask for help whenever you need it or even if you don’t think you need it. Fellow barristers are willing and happy to help and give advice. They are often even flattered to be asked.
Don’t for a moment believe that you are not good enough to be at the Bar or as good as your peers – you are!"
Closing thoughts from the panel
"I have not reached this place in my career in a conventional way and that has, in my opinion, made me a better lawyer. I bring something different to the table and that is positive. It is for the same reason that women have an important place at the bar, in law and in the world generally. We are not all the same. We think differently and therefore have different things to contribute. Different isn’t wrong.
I am very proud to be in a Chambers where 80% of the KC’s are female and where diversity whether that be of gender, race, or any other issue, is actively strived for."
"The hidden challenges faced by women should be recognised and better supported. Whether this is coping with being a parent and juggling work and home life, better planning for those who take time off and want to resume their career, a better understanding of what it means to be a woman at the Bar in middle-life, suffering health issues or the menopause. With better understanding comes better support."
"I have benefited throughout my career from the support and encouragement of a close group of women at the Bar. Being surrounded by these smart, kind and positive women has given me the confidence to take on new opportunities and progress. They are a constant source of inspiration to me. Knowing I can call them at any time to discuss a difficult case or for advice professionally/personally is hugely comforting. A shout-out in particular to Shelly Glaister-Young, who has always encouraged me to stay true to myself."
"I feel extremely lucky to be a part of an organisation which champions women. Many of our leadership roles within Chambers are occupied by women, from our Head of Chambers to our Fee’s Manager, Administrator, E&D Manager and myself as Marketing Manager. 42BR is a great place to work as a young, ambitious woman. I have so many talented and strong women to look up to, seek advice from and be supported by."
Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity and celebrate women in the workplace.
42BR is pleased to announce that we have now moved from 42 Bedford Row and relocated to state-of-the-art premises nestled within the beautiful gardens of Staple Inn. Read more >